Are People with Diabetes Sweeter?

Have you ever thought that people with diabetes are often gentler, more giving, maybe more passive — in a word, “sweeter” — than average? I haven’t found any scientific evidence for this idea, but in my personal experience with hundreds of people with diabetes, it sometimes seems true.


Or could it be that other people are getting more selfish by comparison? Yesterday, I went out to drum up support for health-care reform at an upscale farmers’ market in San Francisco. I was dismayed at how hostile many people were to the thought of contributing to other people’s health care.

“I pay for my own. Why shouldn’t they?” was a common response. Of course, there were a lot of supportive people too — this is “liberal” San Francisco after all. But I was surprised at the intensity of the argument that we’re all in this alone and people shouldn’t help each other.

I noticed that all these people speaking up for selfishness were young and healthy. They obviously hadn’t had dealings with the medical system. I don’t think you would hear the same emphasis on absolute “individual responsibility” from many people with diabetes.

Of course, you could say that people were only against giving through taxation, not through charity. But statistics show charitable giving has also gone down over the last two years. A lot of that could be due to the economic crunch, of course.

You could also say the opposition to public insurance is due to the campaign of insurance-company lies that are saturating the airwaves. I’ve heard bizarre arguments, such as that private medical insurance is “necessary for innovation” — as if insurance companies ever innovated anything in health-care except denying treatments. Or that public insurance would “drive up costs.” (Of course, countries with public health insurance have costs that are, on average, 50% lower per person than in the United States, and these countries have better results.)

Is There a Diabetes Personality?
But leaving health-care politics aside for now, is there a personality type associated with diabetes? If there is, it would probably be different for Type 1s than it is for Type 2s.

My childhood next-door neighbor Millie had Type 2, and she was the best-loved elder in the neighborhood. She always had little sweets and presents for the kids. She never complained when we played in her yard.

She was maybe too sweet for her own good. She was always taking care of nephews, nieces, and grandchildren, when she probably could have used some rest and self-care time. I’m pretty sure she would have supported public health insurance.

As a nurse and author of books about diabetes and self-care, I’ve met many people with diabetes (more Type 2 than Type 1.) Many seem to fit this new stereotype I’m making up of people with diabetes being “nice,” maybe too nice. Maybe they’re not selfish enough, but in the hyperindividual society we have become, perhaps we need people like that.

Anyway, I wonder if any of this experience resonates for you. Do you see this sweetness in yourself or in your family members with diabetes? Is it a good thing, a problem, or both? Do you think that being too sweet might actually be connected to developing diabetes in some way? And is there a different personality type for people with Type 1? Let us know what you think.

Another New Book Idea
Well, the weight book doesn’t seem like a good idea any more. Now my partner Aisha and I want to do a book on couples living with chronic illness. If you’re interested in being interviewed (by e-mail or phone) about your experience as a couple living with diabetes or other conditions, please e-mail me.

Although we’re going to advise on the whole experience of living with chronic illness, we’re going to be writing a fair amount about sex and intimacy issues, as I have done on and elsewhere.

And if you want to change the health-care system, contact your congressperson and senators today and demand real reform.

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  • Mikel

    As you said, younger people are less likely to be familiar with the problems with the current medical system. Diabetics are pretty much forced to deal with the system. If they are sweeter on your message then it’s because they’ve been sucking lemons.

  • Sarah Jane

    I don’t know about being sweeter as far as personality, but I think that when my sugars are above about 110, I get more misquto, chigger, and other bug bites.

    I’m probably just imagining things.

  • M

    Interesting observation on your part,and you have more basis for that conclusion than most of us. I know just two people with Type 2 diabetes, and I cannot say that either fit your “sweetness” description!

  • Graham

    David – I appreciated your item regarding people with diabetic issues being sweeter, and I suspect you are right. Over the years, through various groups, I too have been out there with the euphemistically called ‘begging bowl’ and yes, I think there is a huge difference between people with disabilities and those who are very well health wise – at least physically! The sadness is that people who have in no way suffered are in fact suffering from a lack of charity – a lack of sweetness. And, there appears to be a growing generation of very healthy young people who are not appreciating the health they have, nor showing a tad of sweetness to those without good health. I think it is a world-wide age thing.
    Best wishes from Downunder in NZ.

  • Beth

    Personal responsibility and charity are not mutually exclusive. I take care of myself and my family and am also a charitable giver and always have been — even when it was financially very difficult for me. I think that perhaps it is easier to find givers for your cause who have a shared interest. I collected money for a local diabetes walk and found that those affected with diabetes or who have family member affected were more generous. I’ve also collected for the heart association and found the same phenomenon. Please stop trying to “guilt” folks into sharing your views on health care reform. I have diabetes, I’m libertarian in my political views, and I disagree with state run public health insurance.

  • Judy

    I live right off of an old Bay in SC. We have mosquitoes the size of dive bombers. I have noticed the opposite from Sarah Jane. When my sugar is up,I can stay out and garden in the evening. I hear the mosquitoes buzzing around and some will even light, but it is rare that they bite.

  • June

    I have had Type 2 for about 30 years, I am 75, am giving and caring about those around me, a retired RN, married to a wonderful man for 52 years, with 3 kids (all married), and 3 greatkids. Not just grand, but great!! I vote for those whom I think will do the best for the most people, give to charities that I deem really need help, have my own opinions on things and do not hesitate to stick up for them when challenged. Am I sweeter than others? No, I do not think so. I do use an electric scooter when shopping and have noticed that I become either “invisible” or looked at, pointed at, and giggled at when using it, and mostly by those much younger than I. To my way of thinking, they have not endured some of the things I have and would love to see them if, and when, they get into the state that I am now. Would they feel as I do now? Or would they become “old curmudgeons” with a huge chip on their shoulders? Would be interesting to see, wouldn’t it?

  • Cathy

    I don’t think that you should say that diabetics are sweeter than non-diabetics. That is a sensitive issue to some women who remember the days when we were urged to be “sweet” which meant to be compliant to the wishes of the males in our lives no matter what the demand. I resent being characterized as such. Just because we don’t like the health reform bill that Washington is trying to thrust down our throats doesn’t mean we are mean, uncharitible people. We have worked hard all our lives taking care of our families and generously giving to charities so we are not selfish and uncaring. I just don’t believe that this bill at this time is right for everyone. Some people like to have a little choice in their own lives and well-being. So no, I am not a “sweet” diabetic. I will fight for my rights and what I believe in. Deal with it.

  • David Spero RN

    Thanks for these comments — it’s interesting about the mosquitoes and blood glucose. It’s actually been studied at the University of Wisconsin, and they say it didn’t make a difference. It’s just how you smell that matters, and that seems very individual.

    I apologize if I wasn’t clear about my take on health-care reform. I’m not saying you should support the Democrats’ bill. I don’t support it myself; I’m for national health insurance. What I reacted to at the Farmers’ Market was how many people were outraged that their money might contribute to someone else’s care. Maybe you had to be there. It sure seemed like selfishness to me.

  • vj

    hi I have been type 2 diabetic for about 4 years now where my a1c was 8 and by losing 200 lbs by hard work and determination and a lot of veg, fruits and lean meats I managed to loose the weight in 11mos.I always have thought I am an will always have been a little bit more sweeter then every body else by the way my a1c is now a 5. I think everyone was taking the word sweet a little bit to literal have a great day.